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Snapshot: THON Executive Director Austin Sommerer

by on February 16, 2017 5:00 AM

Doing work for charities has always been one of Austin Sommerer’s biggest passions. Part of that comes from his parents, who have been involved in an organization called Oceans of Love, a nonprofit group in Ocean County, N.J., dedicated to helping children with cancer and their families.

Part of his passion also comes from his own experiences. In 2012, Sommerer’s hometown of Toms River, N.J., was hit by Hurricane Sandy.

“It was incredible seeing people helping each other and rebuild what’s ruined by the hurricane,” says Sommerer, a senior at Penn State who is majoring in business marketing. “Human strength is stronger than I thought, and that touched my heart so deeply.”

Sommerer’s passion to do good led him to become involved with THON during his freshman year at Penn State. He joined the public relations committee and has stayed involved with the THON during his entire student career. This year, he’s executive director for THON 2017, which begins at 6 p.m. Friday and continues through 4 p.m. Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center.

“It is always incredibly amazing to me when people work together for a good cause. And being a part of that is something I feel proud of,” he says. “My dad will come to THON weekend this year. … It will be his first time coming to it.”

Last year, Sommerer was entertainment director for THON, and he says he learned a great deal from that experience. 

“When I was the entertainment director, I saw a lot of things that we could’ve done better,” he says. “For example, the way deliverables were collected should be much more efficient. The way we collect and organize our paperwork is very unorganized. … Nobody thought about changing it just because it’s ‘tradition.’

“I want to have a bigger impact. … A big part of my responsibilities is to maintain good communication with our stockholders, large donors, university officials, and our THON families — they have a lot more knowledge about THON than I do, so it is extremely crucial to maintain and promote these relationships. That experience is going to help me stimulate more relationships and more growth for the future.”

Another responsibility for Sommerer has been to start phasing out canning trips because of safety concerns. In recent years, two students died in car crashes while on canning trips. Sommerer and others with THON have looked for more sustainable and innovative areas for fundraising, including social media.

When asked about his most memorable experience with THON, Sommerer’s eyes fill up a little as he talks about a little girl he met last summer.

“I met this little girl at Penn State Children’s Hospital,” he says. “She was undergoing treatment at the time, lost all of her hair. She kept strong about it, but I could still tell that it was difficult for her. But this past week, I saw her again. Her hair grew back. She was running around as if none of that horrible experience ever happened. That’s the moment when it all clicked. I always knew what we do was worth everything!”

For more information about THON or to donate, visit


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